Take a moment to read the following two paragraphs:
“I have worked in the information technology field for 20 years. I have written programs using various programming languages. I participated in six high-level projects, working with consultants from SAP, IBM Canada, and TCS/TATA. As a system administrator, I enforced security controls in strict compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley policies. I was the backup for the EDI administrator and the network administrator when they were on vacation. I created a printer device description for the company’s Canon 5570 Imagerunner printer using PCL5. I automated many processes once done by human beings.”
“I play EVE Online and Farmville 2. I like reading and sometimes writing poetry. I think the series ‘Big Bang Theory’ is hilarious. I enjoy stand-up comedy. I love reading and watching science fiction. I am an avid news junkie, reading the newspapers and watching the television broadcasts as much as possible. I can’t get enough of Tim Horton’s coffee. I take long walks in the green belts to get back in touch with nature as much as possible. While I listen to classic rock and blues music regularly, I am willing to listen to other musical styles on a whim. I’m a fierce proponent of transit, and feel we have too many cars on the roads. I think our politicians have gone soft in the head and some parents are not doing a good job at raising their children. I feel using violence to solve problems is wrong.”
If you read these paragraphs anywhere other than on my job search blog, you would be forgiven for assuming they describe two different people. In truth, they both describe myself. I am a veteran computer programmer, but also a gamer. I am responsible enough to hold a career in information technology, but also have a great sense of humour. I’m a team player, but also one spontaneous enough to try new things.
Who am I? Which of these things are the real me? Well, both are. As Oscar Wilde once wrote, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth”. We all wear masks and not just one. We have a professional mask when working, and something less than that when the work day ends. We put on a different face for those very close to us as compared to a conversation with a perfect stranger at the bus stop.
Career coaches and job assistance centre staff tell job seekers like myself to police our personal brand, like we are something to be sold like a product or service at a store. While I chafe at the idea of being considered a piece of meat at the market, there is some merit to their advice. Employers now use Google and other tools to learn as much as they can about employees, both current and potential. What does it say about you when there are YouTube videos of you face down and passed out on a barroom floor? What message are you conveying when you post pictures on your Facebook page posing with guns or knives, or nearly naked? While you might argue it’s your personal time and right to freedom of expression to be who you want off the clock, it’s a fair point to stress your conduct could negatively impact the reputation of the company you work for.
There is of course another side to this. What happens if the employer doing the online searches has deep personal beliefs that could impact his or her ability to make a professional and impartial evaluation of a potential hire? For example, what if a potential employer who thinks games are a waste of time learns I like EVE Online or Farmville 2? Is he or she going to think, “oh, this one is lazy and will play games on the job instead of fixing our ABAP/4 programs” (while not realizing firewalls can be configured to block sites like Facebook). Maybe the person doing the on-line look-up of my background would assume I’m just a straight nine-to-fiver unwilling to work overtime because I like to walk around in the greenbelt, not realizing I’ve done six projects worth of unpaid overtime in my I.T. career. Perhaps it’s that one change of my Facebook cover, done completely in jest this past St. Patrick’s Day, that killed any chance of landing that last job I applied to.
I understand that we need to present a responsible presence on the Internet, because the ‘Net never forgets. This is particularly true when our working lives could be impacted. What I fear will happen, in the mad dash to get the scant jobs available, is that we reinvent and portray ourselves as something we are not. I’m a big believer in compartmentalization of professional and personal life: one really should not have any bearing on the other (aside from the examples I mentioned earlier). We can be one and the other without conflict.
Trying to change our online profiles to market something the employer wants that we might not be is not only dishonest, it’s a personal disservice to ourselves. The Internet may be a powerful resource for doing business, but it is also a canvas for artistic and creative endeavours. That’s what social media is all about.
So express yourselves fearlessly…but responsibly at the same time.
Thanks for reading!